China legislature to deliberate Hong Kong electoral changes

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Delegates wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus applaud as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the opening session of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING – China's ceremonial legislature will deliberate changes to Hong Kong's electoral system during its annual session, a spokesperson said Thursday, adding to concerns that Beijing intends to shut opposition voices out of the city's political process entirely.

National People's Congress spokesperson Zhang Yesui said the changes are aimed at ensuring that Hong Kong's political system will “keep abreast of the times” under the principle of “patriots" administering the city.

Zhang gave no details about the changes, although speculation has focused on the possibility of reassigning votes in the 1,200-member committee that selects the city’s leader to deprive a small number of elected local district counselors from taking part.

Officials have also increasingly insisted that only those who prove themselves sufficiently loyal to Beijing and the ruling Communist Party may hold office.

The NPC opens Friday morning with a lengthy address from Premier Li Keqiang reviewing the past year and spelling out priorities for the coming 12 months. The vast majority of the roughly 3,000-member body's legislative work is handled by a standing committee that meets throughout the year.

The crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong has intensified since China imposed a sweeping national security law on the city last year, bypassing Hong Kong’s local Legislative Council, saying it was necessary to provide stability after widespread anti—government protests in 2019, as well as to inculcate love of country in the former British colony.

Critics say the law and accompanying crackdown are stripping the city of many of its rights promised by Beijing at the time of its 1997 handover to Chinese rule under a “one country, two systems” framework.

In other comments at Thursday night's news conference, Zhang promoted China’s development of COVID-19 vaccines and its provisioning of doses to developing countries, including 10 million donated through the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative.